For more information on Piasek itself, see the Piasek article.
The Spytkalat, or salivating fish, was once the dominant predator on the desert continent of Ziarna, on Piasek. However, the arrival of the Staerks in an ancient spaceship changed all that. Larger and stronger than the Spytkalat, the twenty-five thousand or so Staerks quickly wiped out most of the Spytkalat population. Very few remain. This is the unique story of one pack, forced by the unexpected circumstances into having an unusually large number of twenty pack members.
Due to the threat from Staerks, this large group is hiding in one of the many caves dotted around Ziarna. Luckily for then, it has a nearby waterhole, and is deep enough that they won’t be spotted. In fact, it travels backwards and downwards for about fifty metres, before widening into a large, underground cavern. In the tunnel, the ceiling is only about five metres above the ground, making it hard for a Staerk to gain entry, but the cavern is much larger. This is now the group’s main living space.
It is about 8a.m, and the group are still sleeping, apart from a couple of restless youngsters, only about a couple of years old. They are not old enough to understand the true threat represented by the Staerk, having been kept in by the adults. But now, they are the only ones awake.
Overcome by curiosity, the younger of the two creeps towards the entrance. He is almost at the entrance, and hears a great roar from outside. Unfortunately, this serves only to rouse his curiosity further. First his head emerges, then his body. A clawed hand hits his back. Panicking, the youngster turns round... to find that it’s only one of the adults, here to guide him back into the cave.
That might have been a little too close, as no sooner have they retreated to the cavern, a pair of Staerks prowl past the cave entrance. Luckily, they pay it no notice.
Later that day, a pair of adults are crouching in the shadows by the cave mouth. They are hunting. They can lay there for hours until a Fangarm ambles past. Then, they will spring into action, going for the neck region. The Fangarm would normally then be devoured, but circumstances force them to bring their kill back to the cave first.
After hours, they sight a Fangarm. Unaware of the danger, it ambles closer to their cave, drawn in by a cluster of Arbusto. Even the youngsters know by now to stay silent at this crucial stage. The Fangarm is almost at the cave entrance, but now looks doubtful. It can sense the danger. The Spytkalats pounce.
The Fangarm knows it cannot flee, so swipes at the Spytkalats wildly with its tail. The Spytkalats weave between the blows, and one delivers a fatal bite to the neck. Out of desperation, the Fangarm grabs the Spytkalat’s neck with its tentacles. With its remaining strength, the Fangarm squeezes. However, before it can do significant damage, the other Spytkalat attacks it from the other side. The Fangarm drops to the ground, and the Spytkalat extricates itself from the tentacles. As quickly as possible, the kill is dragged into the cave.
The Spytkalats will feast tonight.
The Spytkalats wake up at about 9a.m, after settling down at 11p.m the previous night. Soon after, ten of the adult Spytkalats leave on a hunting mission. Two hours later, they return, dragging a Fangarm between them. The beast becomes a late breakfast, at about 11a.m. However, they encountered another Fangarm sooner than they expected, and not at all in a way they wanted...
It is 1a.m, and the Spytkalats are having their short, hour-long rest during the hottest period of the day. They are shocked out of sleep by a squeal, followed by a thud.
The adults are up and investigating in an instant. Their luck couldn’t be worse. A Staerk has thrown a Fangarm in the direction of their cave, with the intention of killing it. But the Fangarm is still very much alive, and will most likely give away their hiding place. The group have never had to deal with a situation like this before, so do nothing as the Staerk stomps closer.
With its powerful arm, it reaches in (being too large to fit in itself) and pulls out the Fangarm. But it can already tell there is something different about the cave. At that moment, the Spytkalats jump out at the Staerk, planning on killing him before he can react. It doesn’t work. The Staerk falls backwards, dropping the Fangarm which flees in panic. But then the Staerk is back up, lashing out at the oncoming Spytkalats. It grabs one with a powerful, clawed hand, cracking the exoskeleton. The Spytkalat’s flailing limbs score multiple scars into the flesh around the wrist, but the Staerk appears not to notice. It manoeuvres the Spytkalat so that the back of its neck is in plain view. Then it bites down hard, killing the Spytkalat instantly. All this in a few seconds.
But it’s long enough for one Spytkalat to jump on the Staerk’s back, and another on its other shoulder. Both bite and tear, but are shaken off before they can deal fatal damage. The Staerk then swipes at a Spytkalat, smashing its skull. Another Spytkalat leaps at the Staerk’s chest, but it is held away by the arms. Another Spytkalat, however, sneaks under the arms and slices at the area between the Staerk’s legs. Like in humans, this is a sensitive spot, and the Staerk falls to its knees, dropping the Spytkalat. From then on it is easy pickings.
The group must now spend time dragging the Spytkalat and Staerk corpses away from the cave, as otherwise they will alert more Staerks to their presence nearby. However, the Staerk weighs a lot, and this will take a long time.
Having removed the bodies from the area around their cave, the Spytkalat group can return to their normal routine. However, the youngsters are causing problems. Normally, this is the time they begin to develop independence, but, because of the situation they are in, this cannot happen. As a result, they are becoming more rebellious, which could potentially increase the risk of being discovered.
Before long, one youngster makes a perilous mistake. After being prevented from going hunting, it slips away from the parents and runs off. In such dangerous times, the Spytkalat group cannot afford to lose one of the younger generation, but equally cannot afford to risk going after it. Eventually, the first risk is deemed more important than the second, and a group of adult males are sent out after the youngster.
They lope across the plains all afternoon. During that time, one of them acquires an injury – he has scratched himself on an Esfera. This could be fatal. The spines of the Esfera contain a deadly poison that slowly kills the victim over a period of about twenty four hours. However, this will only happen if the poison infects the bloodstream, so all the Spytkalat can do is hope he has been lucky.
The Spytkalats have been travelling for two days now. Their number has decreased from eight to seven – the poison from the Esfera did reach the Spytkalat’s bloodstream, and he was killed before they found the youngster. Even now, they are only just finding traces of him. However, it fills them with renewed determination, and they quicken their pace.
Later that day, they catch up with the youngster. He is completely out of breath, and lying under the shade of a rocky protrusion. He is lucky not to have been found by Staerks.
The males arrive, and the youngster identifies them as his own group. Still rebellious, he tries to run, but cannot go far or fast, and the adults eventually manage to herd him towards their cave.
When they arrive, another two days later, disaster has struck. Two Staerks are smashing at the caves entrance, slowly but surely wearing it down. The remainder of their group are cowering in the cavern.
Six of the males charge the Staerks, approaching silently from behind. The seventh keeps watch over the youngster, to stop him running off or towards the Staerks.
They stay silent as they approach the Staerks. Then, they pounce. Two go for the first one, one heading between the legs and another jumping onto the back. This fight ends quickly, with two blows – one to the neck and one between the legs. The second Staerk, however, whips round when it feels the impact, smashing the Spytkalat into the cave wall, and killing it. As the Staerk takes a blow to the leg, it reaches down and grabs the tail of the attacking Spytkalat, and then throws it into a second. Both lay in a crumpled heap, but are still alive. However, while the Staerk is doing this, a Spytkalat sneaks up to it and jumps onto its chest. Before the Staerk can react, the Spytkalat has bitten a chunk out of its neck. The Staerk, however, has one final surprise. It topples forward as it dies, crushing the Spytkalat underneath its huge weight.
Though it has only been a month, the Spytkalats' number has decreased from 20 to 15. As well as this, a few have accumulated injuries. Survival is suddenly even more crucial.
The next day, the group males are out hunting, while the females keep an eye on the younger ones. They crouch down on the rocky ground, using their exoskeleton as camouflage. A group of Fangarm enter their range of sight. The group contains about fifteen members, also an unusually large number. The Spytkalats wait for one to amble away from the herd. Then, they pounce.
However, luck has not favoured them today. Just as they pounce, a Staerk charges towards the group. It was clearly stalking the Fangarms as well. The Fangarms panic, running in every direction. But the predators are no longer interested in the prey. They’re interested in each other.
The Spytkalats fan out, making it harder for the Staerk to get more than one at once. But one of the Spytkalats, near the edge, suddenly gets an idea. A dangerous one, but an idea none the less. Spytkalats are, after all, a semi-sapient species, and such extreme conditions are forcing them to work harder, and they are well on the way to achieving sapience.
Ever so slowly, the Spytkalat steps over to a clump of Esfera, the poisonous cactus. It then lowers it head to the ground, and tries to headbutt the Esfera out of the sand. It is fortunate, and the plan works. Meanwhile, the others are still holding the stalemate against the Staerk. The Spytkalat makes the final move.
Swift as possible, it grabs the removed Esfera and throws it at the Staerk. The Esfera strikes the Staerk’s shoulder, merely causing an annoyance. But the others understand what they need to do. As one, they turn and flee, though in different directions. They do this for hours, until the Staerk can no longer chase them. Then they lope to the cave. The poison of the Esfera will finish with the Staerk, but it may also finish with the Spytkalat that threw it. This is, however, unlikely, as it did not tire at the same rate of the poisoned Staerk.
And though this is one victory, it is also one failure: the Spytkalats will go hungry tonight.
A week has passed, and the Spytkalats have managed to find enough food to survive. All fifteen of them still live – the Esfera poison did not affect the Spytkalat. Now, though, the Spytkalats must conduct an extremely dangerous operation. They must move.
Staerks are passing their cave more commonly now, and it is only a matter of time before another discovers the cave. Staerk deaths in the area have also aroused suspicion, despite the fact Staerks are not very intelligent. And so, two males are hiding just inside the cave mouth, waiting for the perfect opportunity for the group to escape. The others are ready to move when called.